Duck, Duck Cauliflower: Cafe Sebastienne’s chef shares his favorite cauliflower recipe

Café Sebastienne’s executive chef Rick Mullins is a waste crusader.

Case in point, while most cooks use the tender florets of cauliflower and toss the tougher stems, Mullins uses everything except the greens.

“The stems might actually be my favorite part texture- and flavor-wise,” he says of his recipe, which uses cauliflower three ways.

Before landing at Café Sebastienne in the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art last summer, Mullins was half of Soil Collective, a nonprofit organization and pop-up dinner collaboration he started with friend Mickey Priolo.

The culinary collaborators became known for their focus on hyperlocal ingredients, vegetable-heavy cooking and clever ways to reduce food waste.

Now that they both have landed at Café Sebastienne — Priolo is the restaurant’s general manager — diners can expect a similar philosophy, and a menu featuring plenty of Mullins’ pickled, fermented, dried and cured foods.

“If you have good ingredients, you don’t need to do a whole lot,” Mullins says. “The complexity of my cooking comes from the preserving.”


Market Fresh duck breast


4 duck breasts

Flaky sea salt, to taste

1 medium head cauliflower, greens removed

Salt and pepper to taste

About 1-2 cups heavy whipping cream

2 medium leeks, cleaned of any sand or dirt, cut into ¼-inch coins

Score the duck breast on the fat and skin side in diagonal lines about 1/8- to 1/4-inch apart. Let meat rest at room temperature for about 15 to 20 minutes to assure even cooking.

Place the breast scored side down in a cool saute pan and turn heat on medium. (It is important to start with a cold pan so the fat renders) Once fat is pooled in pan and meat is crisp, turn the breast over to finish cooking in the pan. Cook to medium-rare, or 135 degrees.

Remove breast, reserve fat and allow meat to rest several minutes before slicing.

To roast cauliflower: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Rub the entire head of cauliflower with all but a tablespoon of the duck fat; sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Place cauliflower in a roasting pan and cook until it starts to blacken on the outside and soften to the touch, roughly 20 minutes, depending on size. Split the cauliflower in half and remove florets from stem. Slice stems on a mandoline, or very thinly slice with a knife; reserve for garnish.

To make charred cauliflower puree: Put half of roasted florets in a medium saucepan and add cream to just cover. Season with salt and pepper and heat cream and cauliflower on medium, cooking until the florets are completely soft. Transfer florets to blender with slotted spoon and add ¼ cup hot cream. Vent blender lid and blend. Repeat, adding 1/4 cup at a time, using all the cream until the mixture is a smooth puree. Season to taste. Reserve any remaining cream for another recipe.

To make sautéed cauliflower and leeks: In the sauté pan, reheat remaining 1 tablespoon duck fat on medium-high and add leeks. Allow mixture to sear and cook until leeks are softened. Add the reserved florets and cook with leeks until heated through.

To serve, with stems: Put a generous spoonful of puree down on the plate. Add cooked cauliflower florets and leeks. Next to puree and florets, fan out the thinly sliced duck breast. Finally, garnish plate with sliced cauliflower stems.  

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Every day in the United States, nearly 150,000 tons of food spoils before it is eaten. By year’s end, Americans have thrown away 30 percent of the food they purchase.

At Café Sebastienne, homely or blemished vegetables and other odd tidbits that even the most conscientious home cooks consider scrap are reused and recycled by executive chef Rick Mullins and his kitchen crew.

“I use ingredients until I’ve used literally everything,” Mullins says.

When octopus is on the menu, the poaching liquid is frozen for future use “because it’s full of flavor and really intense,” Mullins says.

Abductors —  those tough, chewy muscles that hinge the shell of a scallop and are typically discarded in the cleaning process — are dehydrated and finely grated on a Microplane to add a rich umami accent to another dish.

Antique rose petals are pickled and used as an accent for scallops, creating a floral vinegar as a byproduct.

From something others toss in the trash, “you’re creating this really unique ingredient. Something really special and unique to that moment in time,” Mullins says.